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Saturday, June 25, 2016

From Manual to MacBook

At my all-girls Catholic high school in the '50s, you had to choose early on to pursue either a college prep or vocational track. Having no idea why, I selected the former, though my mother suggested I cross over to the vocational just once—to learn how to type.

It was good advice at a time when the three top professions open to women were teaching, nursing, and secretarial. Also, if I decided to do something really far fetched like go to college, I’d be able to type my own papers.

And though I did go to college, it took me 10 years from start to finish to finally get my B.A. Along the way, I earned my keep as a secretary, thankful to my mother for being able to do so. At those jobs, I would type on the manual typewriters I’d learned on back in high school

Then in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s—now quite comfortable using the fancy selectric typewriter with the rotating ball—I learned how to word process. This was when I was working as a temp—having recently been through a bit of job hopping—so I really had no choice: If I wanted to pay that month’s rent, I had to figure a way around my first computer, an intimidating and awkwardly large and grey ugly thing.

From there, it was a slippery slope to an IBM Displaywriter. which I was also forced to learn, again on the job.  In 1982, I was hired as the official campaign word processor on Adlai Stevenson III’s run for Illinois governor. Less ugly and more reasonably-sized, it was the kind with the floppy disks and the more essential 1-800 help line.

From there, I kept marching forward on the computer front, though I still consider myself a functioning Luddite. I truly don’t want to do much more on this sleek piece of hardware I’m now typing on than write, email, post on Facebook, and scroll through the various online news sites I subscribe to.

I still print out everything I need or want to read—including my many drafts—staple the pages together, then sit down comfortably with a yellow highlighter in one hand, a pen in the other, and read (vs. scan) the text. Just as I did all through graduate school with those piles of well-worn books and class handouts.

I fully realized the distance I’d come, technologically speaking, when reading this recent piece in the New Republic by Josephine Livingston, “How Literature Became Word Perfect.” It’s a very fun read, especially as her emphasis is on how writers did or did not enter willingly into the processing of their own words.

Click here and enjoy:


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